"Real Love" was warmly received by some critics, and the single reached #4 and #11 in the UK and US singles charts respectively and earned a gold record faster than a number of the group's other singles. The song was not included on the British Broadcasting Corporation's Radio 1 playlist, prompting criticism from fans and members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
After the release of "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love", Starr commented, "Recording the new songs didn't feel contrived at all, it felt very natural and it was a lot of fun, but emotional too at times. But it's the end of the line, really. There's nothing more we can do as The Beatles."
According to bootlegs, the first couple of the demo takes' lyrical structure mostly resembled the song eventually released in 1996, but the others featuring "Real Life" altered portions of the song; for example, "no need to be alone / it's real love / yes, it's real love" became "why must it be alone / it's real / well it's real life." Some takes featured an acoustic guitar, while the eventual Beatles release had Lennon on the piano.
Lennon appears to have later ignored the song, which remained forgotten until 1988, when the sixth take of "Real Love" appeared on the Imagine: John Lennon film and soundtrack album. The song was also released on the Acoustic album in 2004. The demo with just Lennon on piano was released in 2005 on Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon.
The idea of redoing some of Lennon's old songs apparently was inspired by former Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall and Harrison, who first requested some old demos from Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. Then, in January 1994, McCartney came to New York City for Lennon's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While there, he received at least four songs from Ono. According to Aspinall, it was "two cassettes" which "might have been five or six tracks." Ono said of the occasion: "It was all settled before then, I just used that occasion to hand over the tapes personally to Paul. I did not break up The Beatles, but I was there at the time, you know? Now I'm in a position where I could bring them back together and I would not want to hinder that. It was kind of a situation given to me by fate."
In an interview, McCartney remarked:
Yoko said 'I've got a couple of tracks I'll play you, you might be interested'. I'd never heard them before but she explained that they're quite well known to Lennon fans as bootlegs. I said to Yoko, 'Don't impose too many conditions on us, it's really difficult to do this, spiritually. We don't know, we may hate each other after two hours in the studio and just walk out. So don't put any conditions, it's tough enough. If it doesn't work out, you can veto it.' When I told George and Ringo I'd agreed to that they were going, 'What? What if we love it?' It didn't come to that, luckily.
The remaining band members focused their attention on four songs: "Free as a Bird," "Real Love," "Grow Old With Me," and "Now and Then." Of these, they liked "Free as a Bird" the most, and worked hard on it. McCartney said, "Ringo was very up for it, George was very up for it, I was very up for it." Eventually the song saw release as the first Beatles single since 1970. The remaining Beatles then turned their attention to "Real Love". Co-producer Jeff Lynne said, ."..we thought, we'd work on 'Real Love' which had a complete set of words."
The first problem The Beatles had to confront was the low quality of the demo, as Lennon had not used professional recording equipment on the take they were using, but a handheld tape recorder. George Martin had suffered a hearing loss, so the Beatles brought in Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne (who had worked with Harrison as part of The Traveling Wilburys) to co-produce. Lynne, who had already co-produced "Free as a Bird" said:
We tried out a new noise reduction system, and it really worked. The problem I had with 'Real Love' was that not only was there a 60 cycles mains hum going on, there was also a terrible amount of hiss, because it had been recorded at a low level. I don't know how many generations down this copy was, but it sounded like at least a couple. So I had to get rid of the hiss and the mains hum, and then there were clicks all the way through it. ... We'd spend a day on it, then listen back and still find loads more things wrong. ... It didn't have any effect on John's voice, because we were just dealing with the air surrounding him, in between phrases. That took about a week to clean up before it was even usable and transferable to a DAT master. Putting fresh music to it was the easy part!
Although "Real Love" was comparatively more complete than "Free as a Bird," which had required the addition of some lyrics by McCartney, the song also suffered from problems with Lennon's timing. Lynne said:
Well, nobody is [keeping time] when they're just writing a song. You don't think, 'I'd better use a click while I'm putting down this idea.' You just play and enjoy yourself. So it took a lot of work to get it all in time so that the others could play to it.
This complicated job was a large part of the reason why George Martin, the traditional Beatles producer, did not produce any of the new, original Beatles songs. McCartney said:
George wasn't involved, no. George doesn't want to produce much any more 'cause his hearing's not as good as it used to be. He's a very sensible guy, and he says, 'Look, Paul I like to do a proper job', and if he doesn't feel he's up to it he won't do it. It's very noble of him, actually — most people would take the money and run.
Nevertheless, Lynne and the remaining Beatles did their best to make the song appear very "Beatles-y." Lynne said:
What we were trying to do was create a record that was timeless, so we steered away from using state-of the-art gear. We didn't want to make it fashionable.
Therefore, The Beatles gathered once more in Sussex, England at McCartney's studio to produce another single. Added to the demo (which was now a full step higher because Lynne and The Beatles had it sped up) were the sounds of a double bass (originally owned by Elvis Presley's bassist, Bill Black), Fender Jazz bass guitar, a couple of Stratocaster guitars, one a modern "Clapton-style one" as Lynne described it, and George Harrison's psychedelicly-painted "Rocky" strat (as seen in the I Am The Walrus video), as well as a Ludwig drum kit. McCartney did not use his traditional Höfner bass guitar, as he did during much of his career as a Beatle. Other than their traditional instruments, a Baldwin Combo Harpsichord (used by Lennon on The Beatles song "Because") and a harmonium (which appeared on The Beatles hit single "We Can Work It Out") were also used.
The Beatles used sound engineer Geoff Emerick, who had not only worked with them to a great extent in the 60s, but is often credited with many of The Beatles' audio inventions. McCartney said, "[H]e's solid, really great. He knows how Ringo's snare should sound." The attitude in the studio was very relaxed, according to Lynne, "Paul and George would strike up the backing vocals — and all of a sudden it's The Beatles again! ... I'd be waiting to record and normally I'd say, 'OK, Let's do a take', but I was too busy laughing and smiling at everything they were talking about." Starr said that they had to be, in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the thought of being too reverent towards "a fallen hero" (as McCartney put it): "We just pretended that John had gone on holiday or out for tea and had left us the tape to play with. That was the only way we could deal with it, and get over the hurdle, because [it] was really very emotional."
The single jumped into the British charts on 16 March 1996 at #4, selling 50,000 copies in its first week. However, the single's progress in the charts was stunted by BBC Radio 1's exclusion of "Real Love" from its playlist. The Reuters news agency, which described Radio 1 as "the biggest pop music station in Britain," reported that the station declared, "It's not what our listeners want to hear ... We are a contemporary music station."
Beatles spokesman Geoff Baker responded by stating the band's response as "Indignation. Shock and surprise. We carried out research after the Anthology was launched and this revealed that 41% of the buyers were teenagers."
The station's actions contrasted strongly with what occurred at the launch of "Free as a Bird" the year earlier, when it became the first station to play the song on British airwaves. The exclusion of "Real Love" provoked a fierce reaction from fans, and elicited comment from two members of parliament (MPs). Conservative MP Harry Greenway called the action censorship, and urged the station to reverse what he called a ban. However, the station stayed its course, and the damage was done.
An angry McCartney wrote an 800-word article for British newspaper The Daily Mirror about the ban, where he stated that "The Beatles don't need our new single, 'Real Love', to be a hit. It's not as if our careers depend on it. If Radio 1 feels that we should be banned now, it's not exactly going to ruin us overnight. You can't put an age limit on good music. It's very heartening to know that, while the kindergarten kings of Radio 1 may think The Beatles are too old to come out to play, a lot of younger British bands don't seem to share that view. I'm forever reading how bands like Oasis are openly crediting The Beatles as inspiration, and I'm pleased that I can hear The Beatles in a lot of the music around today. As Ringo said to me about all this, who needs Radio 1 when you've got all the independent stations?" The letter was published on 9 March, the day after Radio 1 announced the "ban."
The station's controller, Matthew Bannister, however denied that the failure to include the song was a ban, but merely meant that the song had not been included on the playlist of each week's 60 most regularly featured songs. The station also hit back by devoting a "Golden Hour" to the group's music as well as music by bands influenced by The Beatles. This "Golden Hour" concluded with a playing of "Real Love.
"Real Love" fell out of the British charts in seven weeks, never topping its initial position of #4. In the US, the single entered the charts on 30 March, and reached #10 (Cashbox magazine, March 30, 1996); after four months, 500,000 copies had been moved in the US. The Beatles compilation album Anthology 2, which carried the song as well, eventually reached #1 in both the British and American charts.
The single also has a music video to go with it, which featured shots of the three remaining Beatles recording in Sussex, and also mixed in shots of The Beatles taken during their career. Geoff Wonfor, who directed the Anthology documentary, filmed The Beatles recording in the studio with a handheld camcorder, as they did not want to be aware of the camera recording. Kevin Godley, who co-directed the music video, went on the record to state that it was meant to be a "fly on the wall thing."
"Real Love" was also used in the original version of the movie The Butterfly Effect.
The song has been sped up 12% from the demo, apparently to "effect the snappy tempo" as Alan W. Pollack has speculated. The tune is nearly completely pentatonic, comprising primarily the notes E, F#, G#, B, and C#. The refrain is higher than the verse; while the verse covers a full octave, the refrain, at its peak, is a fifth higher.
The instrumental intro (performed on a Celeste) is four measures long, and the verse and refrain are eight measures. The outro largely comprises the last half of the refrain repeated seven times, slowly fading out.
MEET THE BEATLES - AGAIN FINALLY DECLARING `WE CAN WORK IT OUT,' GROUP'S SURVIVORS COME TOGETHER FOR SOMETHING SPECIAL, AND FANS FEEL FINE
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